British-American team finds mental responses, such as faith, can be manipulated using magnetic energy.
Working together, a team of scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of York have found that they could lessen people's belief in God by simply channeling magnetic forces into a particular part of the brain, specifically the posterior medial frontal cortex, which has identified as the area associated with problem-solving.
The participants in the study, 38 UCLA students of multiple races, were divided into two, and half of them received magnetic force which was not strong enough to alter the working of their brains, while the other half were subjected to magnetic energy that significantly reduced the level of brain activity, enough to halt it for an instant. The results were surprising – this category reported 32.8% less belief in God, heaven and angels, while they were 28.5% more receptive towards immigrants that lambasted the United States.
How magnetic energy was induced into the brain was through Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS, which is a non-invasive procedure and relatively safe. It has been used to treat depression and also study strokes, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis and other movement disorders that originate in the brain.
The 38 undergraduates were not picked at random either – they were selected specifically because of their strong religious convictions and to ensure that they wouldn't go easy on a Latino immigrant criticizing their country, no Hispanics or those deemed to be liberal were included. Following the procedure, they were then given two essays written by recent immigrants to the country, one of which praised the U.S. while the other condemned the same nation. Those who had their posterior medial frontal cortex subjected to magnetic energy that altered its functioning were more welcoming of the latter.
— Mary-Ann Russon (@concertina226) October 15, 2015
The reason for selecting this particular area of the brain, according of Dr. Keise Izuma of the Department of Psychology with the University of York, was to determine it was also involved in solving problems at an abstract level, such as those related to ideology. When dealing with the death of a dear one, for instance, the brain tries to find solitude in religion, reasoning at a higher level to make sense the immediate problem at hand. In this case, people who had their brain activity lowered turned less to religion even when reminded of death.
This underlines a long-held belief that ideological responses are produced in reaction to what are perceived as threats by the human brain. However, it still remains to be explained why increased magnetic energy brought down such activity.